If you’re familiar with photography you are most likely familiar with depth of field. But I want to explore absence of field and I think all of my photography does that in some way. I’ve written a little bit about a related viewpoint previously when I discussed my fascination with what goes on outside the frame of the photo. But absence of field is yet a variation of sorts of that notion. What is absent in my photographs? It really is quite obvious. I recently came across a poem by the great poet Mark Strand that describes this absence of field perfectly.
Keeping Things Whole
BY MARK STRAND
In a fieldI am the absenceof field.This isalways the case.Wherever I amI am what is missing.When I walkI part the airand alwaysthe air moves into fill the spaceswhere my body’s been.We all have reasonsfor moving.I moveto keep things whole.
So therefore; when I take a photo it is complete or whole because I am not there. I, the photographer, am always moving . To keep things whole for my photos. You may see me in someone else’s photos but not my own. I am the absence where air rushes in. Another way to look at it. When you stick your hand in a river, lake or any body of water – as you withdraw, does the water hold the shape of your hand? No. It rushes back to fill the void. The water cannot tolerate the void. It must be complete. Such is a photo. It captures the completeness(i.e. wholeness) of all things – even if those things (like today’s photo) may seem to be missing something. It is still complete as it captures a singular moment of the subjects evolutionary life cycle. When I am dead even though I may appear to not move; I will continue to move as the decay process takes over until I return to the earth as dust. And when I am no longer remembered, when that dust is then used to bring nutrition or life to something else after I am gone I will still be moving. Absence is just as important as presence. This also helps explain why a photo will never be of the future – it will always be the past because the once the photograph has been taken the photographer moves on even though the subject in the photo continues to change. You may say, “what about time-lapse” photography. That still only projects the past. By time you see it the subject has completely moved on. It is all part of maintaining a wholeness in the universe. Absence is the grace that presence cannot afford. We do not need presence to be happy. We can find happiness in absence. To loop back to the poem we can find happiness in the rush of air to fill the void as I move away until something else comes and fills that space. Probably the closest thing in photography that captures the sense of moving to keep things whole is Polaroid or instamatic photography. While you are watching the photo develop the blank space slowly becomes filled with the image. From absence to wholeness. But unfortunately that’s where it ends (or does it?).
Musically Samuel Barber’s Adagio For Strings captures these notion especially at the climax where there is a great silence/pause which punctuates the sound.
or you may like the Choral version by one of my favorite vocal groups.
2 thoughts on “absence of field”
Interesting article. Thank you for sharing.
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Thank you so much Francina. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
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